December 19-24, 2011 - Strength of Youth Conference

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our first ever Strength of Youth Conference held in Belize was a resounding success. It surpassed our fondest expectations. 100 youth from all over the country were in attendance (46 young men and 54 young women). There were also about 40 other people, including counselors, advisors, and those in support groups like logistics, Red Cross, and cooks. It was a week of  learning, fun, opportunities to make new friends, and miracles.
 Those of us advising, the counselors, session directing couple, and coordinators arrived Sunday evening to make sure all was ready.

The young men and their leaders and counselors would be staying in tents (two per tent). 

December weather in Belize is usually quite nice. But this year it was very rainy all month. As leaders we had been praying that the elements might be tempered. Sunday evening, once again, it rained heavily. We were concerned about the grounds being too wet and muddy, especially for those sleeping in tents. 

Monday morning dawned warm and sunny.  We were blessed with beautiful weather the entire week. We felt our prayers were truly answered.  The majority of the youth arrived on buses (December 19).  

The young women and their counselors stayed in nice rooms with air conditioning and adjoining bathrooms. 
Though the young men stayed in tents, they slept on cots, which arrived just hours before we needed them (another miracle).  

Our Session Directing couple, Brother and Sister Gomez, were key to setting the spiritual tone of our conference each day.  Dora Murga was SOY coordinator (partially seen at left). She was like the lead counselor, conducting meetings, giving counsel, training, and  instruction each day. 

As you will see, many activities took part in the same building, because it was the only room we had that was big enough to hold all of us. We aptly named it "Zion". Other areas were available for smaller groups ("Deseret" and "Zarahemla" were two of them). 

We won't attempt to show photos of all the week's activities, as that would take too long, but here are a few.

Tuesday night was dance lessons. Participants especially enjoyed learning line dancing (taught by the counselors) and the cha cha cha (taught by Elder and Sister Sandberg). Next, a dance and dance contest was enjoyed. Michelle and Geofry, at right, were the winners.

Elder and Sister Sandberg not only taught the cha cha cha, but had many important assignments throughout the week that were crucial to the conference's success. From our first planning days, they were the ones that spearheaded SOY and kept it moving along.

One of the favorites activities was the banner making/cheer contest held Wednesday evening.

Everyone got into the spirit of it.

Judges table with the Sandbergs, Gomezes, and Pattees
The banners/cheer-offs were all so good, it was difficult to choose a winner.

The youth especially enjoyed the games after they had finished with their banners.

Educational classes for the youth were held on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Sister Casteneda taught about the importance of making wise choices. One of Elder and Sister Pattee's assignments was to teach about choosing good friends. They also had lots of other assignments throughout the week.

Other classes the youth attended taught about education, learning, standards, and  physical health.

President and Sister Cordon (our mission president and his wife) joined us Tuesday through Thursday.  On Wednesday President Cordon encouraged the young men to set goals to serve missions.  Several young men were later heard to say they were definitely including it in their plans. 

Monday Sister Pattee encouraged the youth to participate in a variety show. (You can also see a better photo of Dora Murga at left by the Gomezes.)  It took place on Thursday evening, with 12 different acts participating. Following are photos of a few of them:

Break dancing and shuffle were a big hit. The four youth shown took turns showing their stuff--kind of like a competition.

Youth displayed their talents in dance,


even flute playing.

Minie wrote, strummed, and sang her own song.

Two groups danced to Christmas songs--San Pedro and

Orange Walk.  Lisa sang the introduction to "All I Want for Christmas Is You", then they all joined in the dance.

This band from Succotz was a big hit, too. 

Pizza night was enjoyed in individual groups.

One afternoon we all stood together to spell out "SOY".

Three meals a day and a snack
We all looked forward to mealtime. Our food was provided by a group of Mennonites that cooked onsite.  They did a great job!

The hammocks were a favorite free time hangout spot.

Arm wrestling was enjoyed by some during free time.

Many new friends were made.

 Having the opportunity to be with LDS youth from all over Belize was enjoyed by all. 

Our youth choir practiced all week for their presentation.  It was beautifully done.  We were fortunate to have help from Guatemala with music for both the choir and variety show.  (Thanks Rivas Family, and Elizabeth, and Vicki.)

Oscar (at left) created a way to make strips of green tinsel into Christmas trees for table decorations, as they began decorating for the dinner-dance on Thursday. 

Getting ready for dinner
That evening each young man escorted a young woman to her table. Thirteen tables were needed to seat all the youth. They were dressed in their Sunday best.

 Later, a dance was enjoyed by everyone in attendance. 

Friday evening Elder Pattee was asked to help lead the youth in a medley, the last song of the conference. It was a touching rendition of "Sisters in Zion" and "We'll Bring the World His Truth", with the young women and the young men singing parts simultaneously. 

The week was definitely a faith building and unifying experience for the youth. When asked to tell about their favorite part of SOY, most did not speak about the classes, or the fun activities they had experienced, or even pizza night.They talked about what they learned in gospel study each morning and about the special testimony meetings held on Thursday night. 

Hearing their answers and seeing their glowing and happy faces made all the efforts of the past year worth it. 

Thank you everyone, including our important logistics/technical team, security, and the Red Cross! With all of our best efforts, the help of our fine youth,  and intervention of our Heavenly Father, the very first SOY in Belize was a big success! 

1 comment:

Bill said...

Very much appreciate all the photos showing the work you are doing in Belize. This post in particular looks like so much fun for you and the youth.

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